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City commits to street safety after nun’s death

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Thursday May 23, 2002

City leaders have fast-tracked safety plans for the neighborhood where a 72-year-old nun was struck and killed by a car on Addison Street earlier this month. But central Berkeley residents are concerned that bureaucratic roadblocks may delay the safety process. 

“We haven’t been told when this is going to happen,” said Wendy Alfsen, secretary of the neighborhood group MAAGNA (McKinley, Addison, Allston, Grant Neighborhood Association). “We’re happy that council acted, but we’ve had frustrations about the city getting things done in the past.” 

Responding to the death of Christine Bennett, who was fatally hit after a 7:00 a.m. mass service at St. Joseph the Worker Church on May 7, City Council, this week, called for the swift implementation of traffic-calming measures. 

The types of measures – whether they are temporary concrete barriers or long-term traffic circles, or something else aimed to reduce traffic on residential streets – remains undecided. City traffic engineers say these details will determine how long it will take to implement a safety plan in the central Berkeley neighborhood. 

“To install something simple, it could be by the end of summer or early fall,” said Peter Hillier, assistant city manager for transportation. “For a comprehensive plan for that neighborhood, with the costs involved, it could take two to three years.” 

To the seeming dismay of MAAGNA residents, momentum appears to be behind a long-range plan. 

Hillier speculated that some residents may oppose a quick solution, like a concrete barrier, because it would merely push traffic from one street to another. A long term-plan would consider the entire neighborhood, he said. 

“The city is obligated to let everyone know what the proposals are [and get input],” he said. 

Transportation Commission Chair Richard Thomason, who addressed City Council Tuesday night, concurred. 

“I don’t want different devices to go up without any neighborhood process and analysis by staff,” Thomason said. 

He explained that temporary barriers or diverters, aimed to reduce traffic on Addison Street and Allston Way, would push commuters to Bancroft Way. 

“And they’ll be going by schools there,” he added. 

But MAAGNA members say time is critical, on Addison and Allston streets. 

If the city would have acted more quickly on long-promised plans there in the first place, the recent pedestrian death would have been avoided, Alfsen said. 

MAAGNA has threatened to stage “baby carriage brigades,” where people push strollers across streets to block traffic, if the city doesn’t begin implementing traffic-calming measures by the end of the year. 

“If the process doesn’t move forward quickly, we [MAAGNA] will take some action,” Alfsen said. 

City traffic engineers say their first step in addressing central Berkeley will be sending out mailings to about 1000 residents, letting them know of the city’s intentions. The mailing will outline three different plans, ranging in scope, which neighbors will be allowed to comment on. 

The amount of opposition will determine how quickly the city can move forward with traffic-calming measures, Hillier said.